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Sarah Canary

3.45  ·  Rating details ·  1,254 Ratings  ·  211 Reviews
"An extraordinarily strong and accomplished first novel" (The New York Times Book Review). In the winter of 1873, a white woman mysteriously appears in a Chinese railway camp. Ordered by his uncle to return her to the white world, Chin Ah Kin embarks on a journey that is both heroic and mystical in its search for right and good. "Utterly original".--Chicago Tribune.
Paperback, 384 pages
Published March 1st 1993 by Zebra (first published 1991)
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Sep 30, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
Exhaustive research and exquisite writing, but this one just didn't add up to an enjoyable story for me. It is viscerally uncomfortable, with its depiction of madness, race and gender in the post-Civil War West.
Jennifer (aka EM)
Jan 02, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First, I didn't know Karen Joy Fowler had written so many books.

Second, this one is as different from the only other one I've read by her, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves as it's possible to be - leading me to think her repertoire is appealingly eclectic.

Third, it's fantastic, especially if you like:
1) quirkiness, lots of humour
2) picaresque (sort of; it's episodic and adventuresome at least)
3) historical fiction, with
4) a post-modern twist (many twists)
5) summarizing interjections of re
Sarah Anne
Mystified. I'm completely mystified. Clearly I missed something. Why is this listed as SF? And why was it a Tiptree nominee? What did I miss?

A woman wanders into Chin's camp. His uncle decides that Chin should take her to a nearby asylum; both men fear that she might be an enchantress or an immortal. Along the way, the woman later called Sarah Canary (she doesn't speak except in nonsense sounds) repeatedly slips in and out of Chin's life as he desperately tries to care for her without understand
Jun 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Jane Austen Book Club somewhat misrepresents Karen Joy Fowler's prowess as a storyteller. Sarah Canary is her first novel, and it's riveting, mystical, gorgeous...a mysterious mute woman wanders into a 19th century Washington railworkers camp and gets misplaced when the Chinese laborer who finds her attempts to escort her to an insane asylum. I have no idea what else to say about it except that you should read it immediately!
Kathy Duncan
Mar 02, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sarah Canary, wearing a battered but fashionable black dress, appears out of thin air to Chin in the archetypal forest of the American west. Initially, he mistakes her for the "ghost lover," who will abduct him for an enchanted evening of love and return him a century later in human years, leaving him prosperous beyond his wildest dreams. Instead, Sarah Canary is a totally addled, ugly white woman. Is she a crazy woman? A traumatized victim, left to roam the woods? Someone's lost, mentally chall ...more
2,5/5 This book was not what I expected, it is a story about feminism, post war America, Indians and Chinese working in railroads, mental illness... I still love her writing very much but I must say that I was bored during the second half of the book...
Betsy Robinson
I’m not sure what to make of this dreamlike story. This is an exciting, wild, sometimes fractured woman chase, and the chasers are a wild team of men and one woman with varying levels of sanity and cultures laced with superstitions and myths. The wild woman they pursue is called Sarah Canary.

I’m a one-book-at-a-time reader who likes to sink into a story and read it straight through. Unfortunately I was constantly interrupted during my reading of this book, and it is a testament to the writing th
Aug 23, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
A vividly imagined and charming retelling of the Wizard of Oz, with a liberal pinch of sci-fi thrown in the mix. Fowler reimagines Dorothy, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, and Straw Man as Old West characters that romp their way through the Pacific Coast, San Fransico's Chinatown and numerous frontier towns. Along the way they butt up against an appropriate Wicked Witch of the West character,but continue on in pursuit of their individual and mutual dreams (just like the film). One suggestion: don't read ...more
Jan 26, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: women-scifi
Now this book will rattle any feminist. Told from a historical standpoint of about 1873 it is full of antecedents about the treatment and psychological and physical characteristics of women. I have a feeling a lot of it is meant as black satire however it leaves an unsettling feeling in the pit of your stomach remembering how far women have come.

Having finished it now, definitely satire, and if taken in a different light quite funny too. I really enjoyed her opening couple of pages to each chap
Her Royal Orangeness
Fowler is best known as the author of "The Jane Austen Book Club." Based on that book, I had dismissed the author as a chick lit writer and never so much as glanced at her other work.

Several months ago, there was an ongoing online discussion about why female authors were rarely nominated for a certain sci-fi book award. (Unfortunately, I didn't bookmark any of the articles, and now I can't find them.) As a result of that discussion, some well-known authors posted lists of wha
May 21, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a strange story! Who or what was Sarah Canary? Was she a woman, a phantom, a ghost? Was she real or unreal or supernatural? Was this a myth, a fairy tale, or a dream? Who were these people that Sarah Canary brought into contact in 1873 or thereabouts? Chin, Tom, BJ, and Adelaide and others were all interesting characters, but this was more Chin's story. But all were fascinating characters.

There are 19 chapters, each beginning with a poem by Emily Dickenson, and eleven interludes. The inter
Jan 19, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A beautifully written, philosophical work set in late nineteenth century America that explores issues of racism, sexism, mental illness and exploitation of the time.

Sarah Canary, so named by one of the central characters of the story, appears out of nowhere to blaze a path through Northwest America and the lives of the people she encounters despite not being able to understand anyone, nor speak intelligibly herself. Her origin remains a mystery throughout and it never becomes clear why she seems
Jul 29, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I first read this book I hated it, but after thinking about it for awhile I think its one of my favorite books. It's very odd and has an almost 19 hundreds circus feel too it. I would highly suggest reading it.

I read this for my AP english class and everyone in my class picked out the obvious topics in the book like race and gender in the 1800s but I skipped past all the and saw the real mystery. There was such a strange feeling that came with reading the book and I think that's why I hated
Carrie Laben
May 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Having had my socks blown off by We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, I picked this off my shelf wondering if it would stand up to a backwards look, or if it would come across as a lesser early work.

It was the former. The traits that make WAACBO amazing - the compassion, the comfort with ambiguity, the sense of the liminal, the delightful nuggets of research that never become overbearing but serve the story the way capers serve the pasta - are all present here as well. I find myself quite int
Aug 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, owned
What a profoundly original and strange novel; a litmus test for a reader. Some elements actually reminded me of Fowler's masterpiece We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves; certainly, not knowing the twist is quite relevant.

I loved the interrupted news pieces and I loved the chorus of "I know a story like this one".

But it took me ages, literally months, to finish it, because for all my love for Fowler's talent... I can't even describe how much or explain why I hate picaresque novels.
Ben Babcock
It is a widely accepted fact that our passions and interests are not evenly distributed among the eras of human history. Some prefer tales of neolithic courage; others are interested in ancient Greece, Ilium, Rome. I have a soft spot for medieval and Tudor England; even Victorian England has its allure. Late 19th-century America, not so much. I do not avoid books set in that time, nor do I go out of my way to read them.

The atmosphere of Sarah Canary's time period holds little appeal for me. Asyl
Feb 29, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
In the spring 1998, my honors seminar class read a collection of 19th century Continental European novels ( Madame Bovary , Anna Karenina , and Effie Briest ), all to discuss feminism, the historical context of same (esp. w/r/t/ marriage, suffrage, women-as-property, etc.), literary symbolism, literature as a vehicle for social change, how science can be perverted to do combat with that, and also how translations of these novels can be (and often are) fraught with their own problems.

Anyway, th
I do not know what to make of this book. I suspected I wasn't going to enjoy it, since I haven't enjoyed other stuff by Karen Joy Fowler, but that's not exactly what happened. I did get caught up in the story, intrigued by the mystery of Sarah Canary. At the same time, I felt like it was one of a type of novel I don't get on very well with, something very opaque, where motivations aren't clear and things just happen to the characters as if they are just giving themselves over to whichever way li ...more
Jun 21, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Throughout this novel, I--like several of the characters--wondered why everyone kept chasing after the mysterious Sarah Canary, when she seemed to bring nothing but trouble and gave nothing in return. Indeed, toward the end I also found myself wondering why I kept reading the book. I did develop an extreme fondness for Chin, the Chinaman who first sets off with Sarah Canary and finds more adventure than he bargained for. Also, I did enjoy the introductory section to each chapter, where Fowler su ...more
Jan 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book gave me a taste for Karen Joy Fowler's books that was long unsatisfied (until I found her next book some four years later!). The story seemlessly blends a science fiction motiv with a dark and quirky historical setting. If you enjoy cross-genre experiments, check this one out.

Unfortunately, Ms. Fowler seems to have a day job that keeps her happy because she has only published four novels since 1993. Each novel is very different from the others, and she only repeated the historical sett
Jan 30, 2017 marked it as xx-dnf-skim-reference  ·  review of another edition
Got to page 68. But I don't know how. Sure, the writing style is impressive, and the setting, with all the historical details, is intriguing. But the yuck factor is above my comfort level, and trying to read it as Satire only makes me feel more disturbed. And then I learn from other reviews that we never do learn more about the title character? Um, no, totally not for me.

(And, no, I don't agree with the Wizard of Oz comparison, even if we improve the accuracy as: Chin is the Questing, Homesick D
Jun 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fem-sci-fi
This book is inventive, brilliant and a masterpiece of original, vibrant writing. Set in 1870's West coast America the book is replete with geniune hoeroes and heroines including the elusive and elemental Sarah Canary, a kidnapped Chinaman, an escaped lunatic, a sex-positive suffragist and a drunken, shellshocked Civil War vet. Fowler manages to create a story that is inventive, surreal and at times, amazingly profound. (A fun counterpoint for this book would be Marge Piercy's book Sex Wars, she ...more
Mar 16, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't think I wanted to keep reading, but I'm glad I did because the reward paid off. Be prepared to be confused, though, and don't expect to ever really find out who Sarah is. Like the characters surrounding her in this novel, she can be whoever you want her to be, which makes this curiously like meta-fiction. It is also a short history of women's roles in the west at the end of the 19th century.
Apr 01, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
With so many good SciFi titles either on my shelf or coming soon from the library, I just couldn't engage with this book; I did read about 1/4 before finally abandoning it...just didn't care about the characters or story.
Oct 31, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Karen Joy Fowler da el protagonismo a los oprimidos (las mujeres, los nativos americanos, los orientales utilizados como mano de obra esclava) en los tiempos posteriores a la Guerra de Secesión de EE.UU. para construir un relato entre la novela de costumbres y el western moral. Su protagonista, Chin Ah Kin, persigue a una mujer extraña vestida de negro por los alrededores del estrecho de Pudget, en el territorio de Washington, mientras conoce a todo tipo de personajes. A través de sus historias ...more
Camelia Rose
What a story! A very unique telling of American Wild West in 1870s. We have an unusual combination of characters - a Chinese labourer, a Forest Gump, an ideological suffragette, a mysterious mad woman and a morally ambigious immortal.

I like the two numbering systems in the book - chapters in Arabic numbers form the main story while chapters in Roman numbers provide supplementary historical facts. Did Karen Joy Fowler study history and Eastern culture before she became a writer? She certainly ha
Jay Daze
May 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 28, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sff
The one where Chin becomes responsible for a strange white woman who won't speak and follows her all over the post-Civil War West, picking up strange allies and strange enemies along the way.

This is the sort of book that reviewers tend to describe as "an exploration of ..." or "an examination of ..." That's not inaccurate, except that it's also a romp. You could think of it as sort of the Funhouse of Bigotry -- violent bigotry is the engine of most of the action, and casual bigotry is the langua
Sarah Canary is less a person than a projection, a receptacle for the fanatsies of others. This may be the usual lot for the stereotypical beauty but Sarah Canary is not lovely, nor does she exhibit many signs of intelligence or sympathy for others. Indeed, she is impressively lacking in social skills, and her behavior is peculiar and unsettling.
Mute and possessed of an exsaperating attempt to elude her would be saviors, nevertheless, the effect she has on other's, when they can't ignore her, is
E Wilson

The narrative of the story was like an old penny dreadful novel. Set
in the West after the Civil War, a motley group of characters are thrown together due to the mysterious Sarah Canary. There is Chin the
Chinaman who wants to take her back to her family and home wherever
that is. He is very leery of moving through the white society of that time and rightfully so. He is joined by B.J. the mental patient. B.J.
seems in awe of Sarah. Adelaide is a feisty suffragette making her
living by traveling aro
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Endicott Mythic F...: This topic has been closed to new comments. Sarah Canary - Who's Reading? / Discussion 7 8 Jun 29, 2016 01:00PM  
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I was born in Bloomington, Indiana. I was due on Valentine's Day but arrived a week early; my mother blamed this on a really exciting IU basketball game. My father was a psychologist at the University, but not that kind of psychologist. He studied animal behavior, and especially learning. He ran rats through mazes. My mother was a polio survivor, a schoolteacher, and a pioneer in the co-operative ...more
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“Lots of people go mad in January. Not as many as in May, of course. Nor June. But January is your third most common month for madness.” 54 likes
“Trees are as close to immortality as the rest of us ever come.” 18 likes
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